The Pittsburgh Steelers insist all is not lost, that their season remains salvageable.
If so, the winning needs to start in a place they rarely do against a quarterback they’ve never beaten on the road.
No big deal.
It’s only Tom Brady and the rebuilt on the fly yet somehow still formidable New England Patriots.
All due respect to the future Hall of Famer, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley isn’t really concerned about who lines up in the backfield for the first-place Patriots (6-2) on Sunday.
Sure, playing in New England against a team that is finding ways to win isn’t ideal.
After an embarrassing loss to Oakland last weekend dropped Pittsburgh to 2-5, Woodley is more concerned about his own team’s significant issues than trying to explain why Brady has dominated the Steelers for more than a decade.
“We have to get back going,” Woodley said. “No matter who is back there, we have to eliminate the mistakes.”
Something that can be difficult when Brady is on the other side of the line of scrimmage. The 36-year-old is 6-2 against Pittsburgh in his career, including a 2-0 mark at home.
He’s thrown 16 touchdowns against three interceptions in those eight meetings while averaging 275 yards passing a game, and he’s done it while working with an ever-changing roster of receivers, from Troy Brown to Randy Moss to Wes Welker to Rob Gronkowski.
“They have turnover, and he still excels,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “So, you kind of become desensitized to it. If you look at his career as a whole, especially early, he never had the big-name outside receiver. The one year that he had Randy Moss, he threw 50 touchdown passes.”
On the surface, Brady appears to be slumping, at least by his remarkable standards. His passer rating of 74.9 is 20 points below his career mark. He’s on pace to throw 18 touchdowns, his fewest since his breakout year in 2001.
And still, the Patriots are in first place.
“You can pick apart his numbers, but the only one that matters is 6-2,” Clark said. “When you give Tom Brady a chance to win a football game, he’s going to do it.”
Opponents haven’t needed Brady-like performances from the guy under center to send the Steelers into a freefall.
The list of quarterbacks to beat Pittsburgh at the season’s midway point include Jake Locker, Terrelle Pryor and a rusty Matt Cassell. Not exactly Canton material.
Yet the Steelers remain confident the things that need fixing are indeed fixable. Coach Mike Tomlin continues to tinker with the lineup, demoting rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones to the second team after he missed several assignments against the Raiders.
Taken with the 17th overall pick in the draft and tasked with giving Pittsburgh’s pass rush some bite at outside linebacker, Jones has been erratic at best.
He is still searching for his first sack and seen his playing time dip in recent weeks in favor of the steady if not spectacular Jason Worilds.
“It’s been very challenging,” Jones said after being benched for the first time in his life. “I’ve just got to stay positive about it and keep working ... I’ve got to understand me being young, this is my learning curve.”
Youth isn’t an excuse for the rest of a defense that doesn’t look like its usual imposing self. The Steelers have just 10 sacks, tied for 30th in the league.
New England, however, is vulnerable up front. Brady has already been taken down 23 times through eight games behind a struggling offensive line.
The Steelers were able to rattle Brady during their last meeting, a 25-17 win at Heinz Field in 2011, sacking him three times and picking him off once.
The defensive backs pushed around New England’s receivers and disrupted Brady’s timing, giving the front seven enough time to make things uncomfortable in the pocket.
It’s a formula Pittsburgh will try to replicate with their season very much in the balance.
“Whatever play is called, we’ve just got to go in there and play like we can play,” Woodley said. “I think we can get to any quarterback.”
If they don’t, Brady will get a chance to be dominant, the guy who has found a way to beat the Steelers no matter how anonymous the cast around him.
“That’s what makes the great ones great,” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “He’s found a way to win football games that are close and with guys that no one has heard of. You admire someone like that.”
Notes: Steelers G David DeCastro (right ankle), did not practice on Wednesday. DT Steve McLendon (illness), WR Markus Wheaton (finger) and CB Curtis Brown also sat out ... Roethlisberger was given the day off on Tuesday, though it was not injury related.